Bowel screening has reduced the number of deaths from bowel cancer in Scotland by more than 25 percent, says a study funded by the Scottish Health Department.

Researchers in Scotland found that bowel cancer deaths were cut by 27 percent among those who had attended screening compared to those who did not.

Bowel cancer screening uses the faecal occult blood test (FOBt) which is mailed to people to carry out at home. People post a series of small stool samples to a lab to be tested for traces of hidden blood which could be an early sign of bowel cancer.

The study is the first of its kind that probes the real impact of using the FOBt in a population-based screening programme.

The results confirmed the findings of randomised controlled trials which were conducted when FOBt was proposed as a method of screening for bowel cancer.

"For the first time, we can see the effects of a FOBt-based colorectal cancer screening programme in the real world of the NHS," study author Robert Steele said in a statement.

More than 370,000 people aged 50-69 from three of Scotland's 14 health boards were invited to take part in a population-based pilot study of bowel screening, before a national programme was introduced.

FOBt kits were sent to these people through the post and returned to a lab for analysis.

Researchers studied this screening group alongside a control group of the same size who were from health boards not taking part in the pilot study but had similar bowel cancer death rates.

The results showed that among those invited for screening, there was a 10 percent reduction in bowel cancer deaths compared with those not invited.

According to researchers this is an underestimate, since 40 per cent of those invited for screening did not actually take up the invitation - the reduction in bowel cancer deaths rose to 27 percent when looking at those who actually completed the cancer test.

The chance of surviving bowel cancer is more than 90 percent with people surviving the disease at least five years, when it is detected at the earliest stage. But if the tumour has spread to other parts of the body when it is diagnosed, just over six per cent survive their disease this long.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK - around 40,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK.

The study will be presented at the National Cancer Research Institute this week.

"These figures are evidence that the bowel cancer screening programme is helping to lower the number of deaths from the disease. It's expected that when all of the national screening programmes across the UK have been up and running for a couple of years, that similar results will be seen for the whole of the UK," NCRI Director Jane Cope said.